Mariner who survived 16 days at sea lucky to be alive, doctor says
For 16 days, Samuel Leroy Moss Jr. floated at sea eating Doritos, cookies and crackers. It’s why he’s still alive.
Moss, of Nassau, the Bahamas, and his emergency room doctor talked Friday about his lost voyage and the recovery of his health at St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach.
A lifeguard at the Baha Mar resort in Nassau, Moss said he also worked as a baby-sitter to save $3,500 and buy his used, 21-foot Angler from a Craigslist seller in Hialeah.
The ocean crossing to Bimini was uneventful. Then, on Jan. 14, Moss was supposed to take a four-hour trip to Nassau. In a live Facebook video recorded as he left Bimini, Moss seemed happy, excited and optimistic that he would soon be home.
He said Friday that he checked the weather forecast before he left Bimini and knew bad conditions were coming, but thought he could beat the storms.
Instead, high winds and waves pushed Moss’ vessel off course — and his boat drifted in the Atlantic Ocean.
“I was never really lost,” Moss said. Though he said his GPS had failed, “I was stranded,” Moss said. “I always know where I was. The boat stopped because I ran out of fuel.”
Currents brought him to Andros Island and Moss said he camped there one night, accompanied by the calls of wild hogs. At home, his loved ones notified Bahamian authorities, who began searching for him. But Moss was nowhere near where searchers expected to find him.
Moss decided he should try to drift back toward the United States and shipping lanes along the coast, where he hoped to be seen and rescued. And he kept busy. He said he hoisted a canvas as a makeshift sail and used his engine and sometimes dragged his anchor as a way to steer.
“I prayed plenty,” Moss said. “I wouldn’t really sleep at night.”
He took naps, and passed time filming frolicking dolphin pods and looking at pictures on his cellphone.
He also placed orange life jackets, some with blinking lights, in the water and littered the sea with water bottles, hoping someone would follow the debris to him. Flares were set off to attract passing ships but they apparently didn’t see him, he said.
The boat battery charged his cellphone, but he didn’t have any cell service that far from land. His snacks were gone after 11 days, by Jan. 24.
He was at the steering wheel on Jan. 26 when a big wave hit the right side of his boat. The wave washed away his phone, water and passport and knocked him to the deck, hurting his back and ribs.
“The boat was spinning,” Moss said. “I thought to myself, ‘Now I got to come up with a serious game plan to get out of this.’”
Sea water flooded the deck; a shark showed up the next day, on Jan. 27, he said.
“I thought, ‘Wow, this can’t get any worse,’” Moss said. He armed himself with a screwdriver but didn’t need to use it.
His boat continued to float until Jan. 29, when a private yacht found him and circled his vessel until help arrived, Moss said.
The U.S. Coast Guard plucked Moss from the semi-submerged boat when it was about 10 miles east of Palm Beach County.
“I was tired, I couldn’t even lift my hand up, so the Coast Guard had to basically lift me off of the boat, because all of my energy was gone,” Moss said.
Being young and healthy probably helped save Moss’ life, said Dr. Kevin Buford, assistant medical director of the emergency department at St. Mary’s Medical Center.
The Coast Guard had brought Moss to shore where paramedics from Riviera Beach Fire Rescue were waiting. They gave him intravenous fluids and Moss was able to move his limbs when he arrived in the emergency room, Buford said.
Moss was dehydrated, his electrolytes were dangerously low, his heart rate was high and he was not speaking clearly. Moss’ body was in starvation mode, absorbing fat to survive.
“He didn’t have much longer, is all I can say,” Buford said.
But the impulse to give him something to eat or drink was the wrong one, and his caregivers had to avoid re-feeding syndrome from happening, Buford said.
“If you give somebody food or water too soon after having been starving for so long, they use their remaining electrolytes to digest food and that can kill them in a delayed fashion,” Buford said.
Moss was given liquids and vitamins intravenously for 24 hours. Discharged Wednesday, Moss’ tests showed no permanent kidney or heart damage, the doctor said.
“It seems like he’s very lucky and he had a very near miss,” Buford said. “He should recover without any long-term physical complications.”
Buford could not address whether Moss will have any psychological scars.
“I can’t imagine what 16 nights would be like, out in the ocean, all alone,” Buford said.
The Jan. 29 rescue was the second time in a year that authorities have saved Moss. In Feb. 2017, his boat was stranded for three days off Grand Bahama before the Royal Bahamas Defence Force found him, according to a Bahama news report.
While Moss was still hospitalized Tuesday night, his girlfriend, Lashelle Forbes, said it was because he’s so “hot headed and he doesn’t listen” that his record as a seaman is so bad. Moss just grinned.
“I never had a doubt that God was going to take care of me,” Moss said then.
Chris Lloyd, operations manager in Nassau for the Bahamas Air Sea Rescue Association that aids distressed travelers, said Friday he was personally offering to teach Moss the U.S. Coast Guard’s safe boating course, a plan that delighted relatives who surrounded Moss during his press conference at the hospital.
“I would take it,” Moss said.
He said he is thankful for his rescuers and caretakers, and “for life, another shot at life. That’s what I ‘m grateful for.
“What I have learned from all of this is to plan better,” Moss said. “If you need something done, do it yourself. Because I asked people to help with this situation [to make the crossing] and they turned me down. So I had no choice but to do it myself.”
He was surrounded by grateful friends and family with ties to the Bahamas and South Florida -- his girlfriend, and buddy Miguel Neely; relative Crystal Delva, Samara Moss, his sister, and Kishlane Knowles, a family friend.
“We will make sure he takes the [boating] course,” Samara Moss said. “He’s gonna get in a boat anyway, to go fishing. But no ocean crossings. That’s it for that.”
Moss plans to leave South Florida next week and return home to Nassau.
“And I’m flying across,” he said.